Virginia’s Democratic U.S. senators have co-sponsored a bill aimed at helping recipients of a federal nutrition assistance program receive restaurant meals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner announced Tuesday the introduction of the bill, formally called the COVID-19 Anti-Hunger Restaurant Relief for You Act of 2020, or the SNAP CARRY Act. It would waive certain requirements so states and restaurants can participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Restaurant Meals Program during emergencies like COVID-19.

The program allows people who don’t have a place to prepare their own food to buy discounted prepared meals from participating restaurants with their SNAP benefits, more commonly referred to as food stamps.

“We are proud to support this effort to expand the use of SNAP benefits to participating restaurants,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement. “This legislation is a win-win for increasing food security and supporting local restaurants – two critical issues amid this pandemic.”

While the bill gives all SNAP-eligible people the chance to participate during a nationally declared disaster or public health emergency, it also gives restaurants the choice to opt out of the program after COVID-19.

Under the current restaurant meals program, only SNAP recipients who are homeless, elderly or disabled are eligible.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is the main sponsor of the bill.

Kaine and Warner also announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally authorized Virginia’s request to participate in a pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to order their groceries online during the public health crisis.

The senators sent a letter to the agency in April asking for approval.

“While USDA has moved swiftly to reduce barriers and increase access to (the pilot program), during the current public health emergency, most SNAP recipients are only able to utilize these benefits in person at grocery stores or other retailers,” the letter read. “This requirement places SNAP recipients at higher risk of infection, as they are not able to utilize various online grocery delivery services that are available to consumers.”

The program already is operational in 18 states.

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